“Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Can you imagine what these last few weeks must have been like for the apostles? What an incredible emotional rollercoaster it must have been. Look back over the events since Palm Sunday. First that glorious entry into Jerusalem, walking proud as the crowds cheered their friend and master. Then the last supper, a beautiful celebration of the Passover together, their friend serving them, teaching them, talking to them. Followed quickly by the horror of his arrest, torture and execution – imagine the grief of that, and the appalling fear that they might be next. And then the shock of the resurrection – so wonderful, but so puzzling, as Jesus comes and goes, undeniably risen, still their friend and teacher, eating, walking and talking with them – but also undeniably not as he was, appearing and disappearing, mysterious.
It’s easy for us to look at these events and see where it was all leading, easy for us to grasp immediately the force and purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection – but it was impossible for the apostles. Living it moment by moment, in the thick of things, they couldn’t work out was happening until much, much later. That’s totally understandable – we all have the experience of looking back at things we have experienced and finding understanding we didn’t have at the time.
We need a bit of distance to make sense of big events. Which is why in the reading from the Acts today the apostles are still getting it so very wrong. “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” they ask, still hoping for an earthly Messiah, a proper King who would overthrow the Romans and give them back their national pride. Still not seeing that everything has changed now, that the Messiah they have is much, much more than that.
Everything has changed – but the disciples, in the middle of it, can’t see that. They are still holding on to their old expectations, their old dreams, not realising that now is the time for something else, something better. They wanted a change of government – what they’ve got is God’s kingdom.
But if nothing else, the apostles have learned one thing by this point, so in response to these mysteries, for once they do the right thing – they pray. They go back to Jerusalem and spend their days together in fellowship, devoting their time to prayer.
Of course, eventually it will all make sense for the apostles. Eventually, they will come to understand that the kingdom has in fact already been restored – and not just to Israel, but to the ends of the earth. Eventually they will look back at that last meal together, that last supper, and remember what Jesus told them, as we saw in our Gospel reading today, that now Jesus has been glorified, restored to God’s glory, and that in doing so he has restored them, restored all of us, to God’s glory. Eventually they will come to realise what God had been doing all along.
Hindsight is a marvellous thing.
We are living through strange and unexpected times ourselves. Not exactly on the same scale as the apostles, but still, strange and unexpected. But like the apostles, maybe we too can learn. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if our response to these challenges we are facing was to stay home and pray. And to ask ourselves – what old dreams do we need to let go of? And an even better question – what is God doing that we can’t see yet?